Not being able to hit proper squat depth is an issue faced by a lot of people, especially in developed countries.Unfortunately, most of us are very sedentary throughout the day.We are simply not used to squatting in our daily lives.
It is not uncommon to sit for 10 hours a day. We sit while we’re working, studying, watching TV, commuting etc. That being said almost everyone can learn how to squat deeper.
Why Squat Depth Matters
Deep Squats are More Effective
A full squat is a natural movement for the body and most of us are capable of doing them. A full squat utilizes nearly all of the muscles in the body.
The primary muscles used in a squat are:
The squat also engages other muscles including upper back, shoulders etc. to maintain position.
If you want to utilize all of these muscles, you have to train with the complete range of motion. The main factor affecting muscle size and strength gains is mechanical tension. In order to provide the body with this stimulus, you have to train the muscle with a full range of motion.
Performing a full range of motion on any exercise also recruits more muscle fibers. In the long run, you will be able to lift more weight with a deep squat utilizing the stretch reflex, which will help you spring out of the hole.
If you are able to perform deep squats with good technique, it is much safer than doing partial squats. Partial squats place extra stress on your knee joints. You will also be able using more weight with partial squats, which will place even more stress on the knees.
With a full squat, you may use less weight but the mechanical tension is greater. You are also distributing the tension amongst all your major muscles which makes it safer.
Deep squats place less stress on the joints and more stress on the muscle.
By combining good technique, increased safety, and increased muscle tension, you will make the most progress in terms of muscle and strength.
How Deep Should You Squat?
Ideally, you should squat as deep as you can while maintaining good form. If you get pain from squatting too deep, it probably means that it is too low.
Good Squat Form:
-No back rounding
Going by the technical rules of Powerlifting, a deep squat is when your hip crease is below the top of the knee joint.
This is a good starting point for most people. Some people refer to this as going below parallel. Almost anyone can squat this deep and most trainees do not need to go any deeper than this.
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Factors Affecting Squat Depth
- Type of Squat
- Squat Technique
- Squat Mobility
Type of Squat
There are so many variations of the squat. Some of the most common include goblet squats, front squats, high-bar back squats and Low-Bar Back squats.
Typically, if the weight is in front of you (goblet of front squats), it is easier to go deeper because your torso is more upright. Also, having the weight in front of you allows for a great counter balance. On the other hand with a low bar back squat, since the weight is behind you, you will have to lean more forward and will not be able to squat as deep. Keep this in mind when you’re determining your squat depth.
If you’re just starting out and are not used to squatting deep, start with goblet squats. The goblet squat can be done using a dumbbell or a kettlebell. Since the weight is in front of you, you don’t have to worry about balance as much.
Anatomy – Body Type
Each person’s squat will look a little bit different because we are built differently. One of the biggest factors that determines a person’s squat technique is his/her femur (thigh bone) length. A person with shorter legs will squat differently than a person with longer legs. The shorter legged lifter will typically be able to squat deeper because he/she will be able to stay more upright. A longer legged lifter will have to lean more forward to stay balanced.
There are several other anatomical differences between individuals that affect squat depth such as tibia (shin bone) lengrh, hip angle etc.
Try different squat styles and stances to see which one works best for you. For example, if you have really long legs, you may have to use a wider stance than a person with shorter legs.
The lack of mobility is an issue in developed countries where people have sedentary lifestyles. Mobility, for the most part, is an adaptation just like getting stronger from strength training is. Most of our bodies are adapted to sitting rather than squatting. Even if you squat for 1 hour per week, you are still sitting 70-80 hours a week.
The body adapts to the specific demands you place on it. This is known as the SAID principle (Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands).
Because of our sedentary lives, we typically have tight hips, hamstrings, and calves. There are many mobility drills you can do to improve your mobility.
Performing mobility drills can be useful but in my experience, the best way to improve mobility is to actually squat more often. The more often you squat, the more comfortable your body gets in those positions.
If you only squat once a week, try squatting 2-3 times a week. If you want to take things further, try doing a deep bodyweight squat every day for at least a couple of minutes.
Generally, if you have bad technique you will not be able to squat as deep as you’d like. Strength is a skill that is developed through practice. A great squat technique takes a long time to master. Not only do you have to learn the right technique but you also have to practice it.
Lower the Weight
Don’t Let your ego get in the way. Sometimes, you have to take a step back in order to take 2 steps forward. Reduce the weight you’re lifting and practice deep squats with the correct form. Don’t let your ego get in your way.
Try Goblet Squats
Goblet Squats are the easiest to hit depth with because you have an upright posture. The weight acts as a counterbalance and you don’t have to worry about falling back.
Try Box Squats
Many people are not able to hit depth because they are afraid of losing balance. A box squat will allow you to sit on the box with confidence. Start with a higher box and then lower the height until you’re at a good depth
Try Paused Squats
Paused squats are the fastest way of learning the correct technique. Simply squat to the bottom position and hold that position for 1-2 seconds. You will get a really good feel of how a deep squat should feel.
Bonus Tip: Film yourself while squatting.
This is a great way to assess your form. Filming yourself from the side is the best angle to assess squat depth. You can also see your back angle and bar path when you film yourself from the side. A mini tripod is very useful for filming your lifts.
If you have an online coach, you can also send your videos to him/her for a form check. If you’d like me to take a look at your form, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many times hitting depth is not an issue of mobility or flexibility. The squat can be a balancing act for a lot of people. If you aren’t stable in your movement, you will not be able to squat as deep as you’d like without losing balance.
Also, check out Top 5 Tips for Proper Squat Form
The shoes you wear can make a huge difference to your squat. Your shoes are the only thing between you and the ground and all of the weight you are squatting + your body weight is on them.
There is a reason why squat shoes are so popular. Yet I see so many people use the incorrect footwear. Just like any sport, you need the correct equipment for lifting. Whether you want to play tennis, basketball, cricket, badminton, or even football. You will benefit from using the correct footwear. Running shoes are good for running but are pretty terrible for weightlifting.
Benefits of using the Squat Shoes
You need a solid base to be able to lift the most amount of weight while staying safe. If your base is not stable, your squat will not be stable. Weightlifting shoes are extremely stable because they don’t compress under load. They also help keep your feet in position.
The reason why many people can’t squat deep is that they have tight calves and ankles. These muscles are involved in dorsiflexion. Most squat shoes have an elevated heel which reduces the mobility demands from these muscles.
Upright Back Angle
Squat shoes affect the way you squat. Squat shoes with a heel allow you to squat more upright. As we discussed earlier, a more upright squat will allow you to squat deeper.
Recommended Squat Shoes
I have uses all of these shoes myself. They’re all great for the price. If I had to pick 1, I’d go for the Nike Romaleos.
Squatting deep is not only more effective but also safe.
How to improve Squat Depth
- Squat for your Body Type. We are all built differently. Find a squat stance that works for your individual anatomy
- Type of Squat: Different squat styles will affect how deep you can squat
- Squat Technique: Learning the correct squat technique will help you squat deeper
- Squat Mobility: Most of us are sedentary and lack the required mobility to hit depth
- Squat Shoes: These can instantly help you improve your depth